Gaining Velocity for South Africa

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In the fourteen years since launching Velocity Films, New Yorker Barry Munchick has found himself in the position of advocate for South Africa and its directors to foreign creatives looking for lower-cost production. Now in addition to that, he has taken on the role of rallying local South African creatives to advertising's highest cause: the brave idea. "Although we had six or seven things short-listed, no agencies from South Africa won a Lion this year at Cannes," says Munchik, who formed Velocity in February 1990 with director Keith Rose. "On the plane back, crying with everyone, I tried to think of a proactive solution to the problem of how we can help lift the bar a bit." The result is Cannes Do SA, an initiative that encourages creatives to take risks, coordinated along with the Cannes Do charity launched this year. The script submitted by South African copywriters, art directors or creative directors that is selected by the panel of judges, which includes Rose, an international judge and members of the Creative Circle will be produced by Velocity for a real client for R350,000 (about $50,000) and submitted to the Cannes festival. If it wins a Lion, Velocity will send the winning team to Cannes in 2006. "It's a way to spur creativity and encourage people to be brave, with a clear prize," Munchick says. The entry money will go to the Cannes Do charity Ashoka.

In the meantime, he continues to nurture Velocity's eight directors, in addition to four directors from new partner Freshwater Films, which will operate as part of the Velocity group under its own name. While Rose remains a strong presence in the field and won several local awards at the Loeries in October for his work for Sasol milk, Greg Grey recently directed a high-profile spot for BMW out of Fallon that hypes its iPod connectivity, shot on a tight budget in Johannesburg. Set in a parking garage, "Back Seat" shows artists piling into the back of a BMW like clowns at the circus, then reflected in the rear-view mirror as the driver switches from rock to motown to mariachi music. Rose's recent collaboration on Nutrigrain spots for Leo Burnett/Chicago shows suited commuters on their "morning marathon," running en masse across a bridge and through streets. Both projects came together through Velocity's partnership with Crossroads in the U.S., Velocity@Crossroads. Michael Feteke, producer at Velocity@Crossroads, says, "From a marketing point of view, this partnership has allowed both Velocity and Crossroads to deepen and broaden their directorial pools. The South African reels are highly visual in style and rich in creative which allows us to target key accounts."

While many talented directors tend to leave South Africa for the U.S. and Europe, Munchick says that helping directors develop can be mutually beneficial. "The guys who like what we do stay, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy," he says. "We're trying to train one good director a year. [Freshwater director] Slim is our guy for this year, and I'm looking for someone to keep the blood fresh for next year." Munchik also points to Mickey Madoda Dube and Thabo Marera as bright lights on the indigenous local talent roster.

"I think nowadays that most savvy producers understand that it's not just the bottom line that drives better production, it's getting good crews," Munchick says. " I think a lot of people last year went to South America, and had good experiences, but there are a lot of things that South Africa has that South America doesn't have. It's getting the kind of equipment that you want, having local infrastructures and having people who speak English."

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